Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, CBIT, ERP, CBT-I, Behavior Consultation, and Treatment for Anxiety and Insomnia

Laura Van Schaick-Harman, Psy.D., BC-TMH


Dr. Laura's Meaningful Psychological Services

Online Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Blog

New Space and a New Place!

Posted on June 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM

 

New space and a new place! I've been a busy bee lately. It's that time of year to engage in some productive spring cleaning-physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. See this post about spring cleaning our thoughts for more information about cognitive spring cleaning.

 

 

This month, I am going to focus on spring cleaning our physical space and embracing change. Making changes in our lives can be a difficult task, especially when the road ahead is filled with obstacles, diversions, distractions, and options. Sometimes change involves reevaluating goals, ideas, and plans. As I have watched my son grow over these past 9 months, I have observed the many changes that he experiences as he develops. From a tiny little bundle to an active infant with new vocal and motor skills emerging almost daily. If I blink I feel like I will miss a new skill develop. Sometimes change can unfold right before our eyes. Other times, change happens when we actively pursue, engage, and plan for it. As a new mommy, I have been busy spring cleaning my office, private practice, missions, schedule, goals, plans, and website.

 

 

I am excited to announce some new changes! Pop over to my website (www.meaningfulpsychservices.com) to see the new design and let me know what you think. It is my hope that information is readily accessible for you, clients can access their secure client portal with ease, anxiety resources can be shared widely, and I can provide additional online therapy options. Also, spring cleaning this year included new space and a new place. I am going to be seeing clients in a new location in Patchogue. Part of spring cleaning and observing changes in my growing (physically and verbally!) little boy and new schedule as a mommy, I have made the big decision to change to a local office setting.

 

 

I will also have new hours. The virtual office will offer online and phone sessions, secure messaging, chat sessions, and journaling and is open Monday-Wednesday. I will be in Patchogue on Tuesdays and in Smithtown on Wednesdays.

 

 

Change is happening. Spring cleaning is in the works. Reevaluating physical space is occurring. Redesigning virtual space is evolving. It is my mission to provide ethical, competent, effective, and helpful services to the community. Let's grow together in new spaces. The virtual office serves all of New York. So, you can grow from the comfort of your own couch, home, or office.

 

 

Join me in embracing change. Jump on board to a new place and new space-either physically, emotionally, virtually, spiritually, or emotionally.

 

College, Work, and Fun, Oh My!

Posted on March 1, 2015 at 7:00 PM

It is not uncommon for college students to experience a wide range of emotions during the course of their study. The transition from high school to college and then college to employment/career/graduate school can be difficult, exciting, anxiety provoking, smooth, or any other description of personal experience. Anxiety and stress are common culprits that affect today's college students.


College students receive syllabi that cover several (usually 14 or 15) weeks of assignments, responsibilities, due dates, and schedules for several classes. For students who are really good at organization, time management, and planning, figuring out how to organize themselves for the next few months might not be so difficult for them. Having the energy, the time, and the skills to develop an effective plan for being successful each semester and the entire academic career is hard work, even if you have strengths in the aforementioned areas.


During the course of college, students may experience anxiety related to academic, personal, and/or professional situations. These situations may include test anxiety, romantic relationships, roommates, living away from home, commuting, balancing work and school, making friends, nutrition, completing assignments on time, technology, communication, and more. There are a variety of resources students can access to help cope with these areas. Students can explore the availability of a campus counseling center to receive personal counseling or an academic center that can help with academic skills.


It is essential to develop effective coping, time management, and stress management skills to utilize during the college experience. College doesn’t have to be stressful, negative, or boring. Students can experience success and fun.


If you would like to learn more about developing effective skills for studying, time management, stress management, and being successful in college, I offer a package of 9 audio workshops that provides information regarding these areas. You can learn more about this package on my website.

Why I Love Starbucks (And I Don't Even Life Coffee)

Posted on January 12, 2015 at 7:10 PM

 

I don't like coffee. The taste specifically. I do, however, love the smell of coffee. In fact, I have some warm memories associated with smelling coffee. Saturday morning breakfast at McDonalds (both as an employee-yes, my first job was at McDonalds at 14 and I loved it- and as a consumer with my Dad and siblings before working together at the store he manages). Window shopping during the holidays sipping a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks (not too much, if any, coffee in that). Fellowship hour after church. Chatting with friends on big couches. My first date with my husband (who doesn't like coffee either). Meeting new colleagues. Networking. Business meetings with my coaching business partner. Spending time with friends and family.


 

I think Starbucks has an odd way of bringing people together in a non-threatening sort of way. The other day I was walking into Starbucks for some meetings with new colleagues to discuss our practices, goals, and experiences when I ran into an old college friend. Once I arrived inside to meet my colleague, I saw my brother-in-law meeting with his video production company business partners at a nearby table. Out of all of the Starbucks in my county, we all chose this one at the same time.


 

Every time I am in Starbucks or reflect upon a recent visit, I ponder about all of the good, the bad, the ugly, the cool, and the scary things happening in there. What great projects are being launched? Who is studying for a big test for school? What kind of book is an author writing? What relationships are beginning? What relationships are ending? Who is trying to repair a hurt? Who is trying to resolve an issue? Who is trying to fix problems in a relationship? What great ideas are being discovered? What kinds of relaxation techniques are being used? Is everyone being mindful?


 

When I would like to meet with colleagues, I usually suggest Starbucks. I find that I can be very mindful and get a lot accomplished and stay relaxed there. I also enjoy thinking up reasons for other people to be there as well. I am not going there for the coffee. I am going there for the people (and some of their yummy drinks and snacks too).


 

I am reminded of a short story someone once shared with me: The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee, author unknown. I have included it here.


 

The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee

"When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else--the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Journey Back to Basics

Posted on October 12, 2014 at 8:15 PM


As I am writing this piece, I am reflecting on my very new journey into motherhood. I recently gave birth to my first child and I am amazed at how complicated and yet simple caring for a newborn is. I am savoring these tiny moments all the while researching, learning, practicing, asking, and trying the best ways of being a parent. So far, I have learned the importance of going back to basics.


 

Preparing for the arrival of a baby can be quite daunting. There are constant conflicting messages about what you need and what you don't, what you should do and what you shouldn't, and who to trust for advice and who not to trust. For example, when we completed our registry, we were given a checklist of "must-haves" and "nice-to-haves" that spanned several pages long. Being a diligent and efficient individual, I registered for most of the-let's call them- mandatory items and several of the suggested items. Several hours later, we completed the task and returned home. Over the next several weeks leading up to Baby's arrival, we learned that we did not in fact need many of the mandatory must-have's after all. Some of the items, in fact, are actually unsafe to use. In thinking about what we really needed, we learned that a certain amount of staple supplies, and not three of everything (for example, we didn't need 3 types of strollers) are a good start.


 

All of this preparation led up to Baby making his world debut! We were so surprised in the hospital to learn how basic supplies were to be used with our newborn. The "wipes" for example reminded me of dinner napkins. It turned out, they were, in fact, like napkins. We were taught to take a napkin and wet it with water and (ta-da!) you have your baby wipe. So, I didn't need to use (and still can't use) any of the store made baby wipes that we stocked up on. The same goes for diaper rash cream. The hospital supplied us with petroleum jelly to use, which is still the recommended product to use until he is 1 month of age. All we need is a diaper, a paper towel (yes-the pediatrician said to use a wet paper towel as a wipe), and some plain petroleum jelly to change Baby.


 

Bringing a baby home is such a blessing. We, as parents now, put our needs after Baby's. We are programmed to check that Baby's basic needs are being met all day and night. Since our needs are not met first anymore, we need other people to help us. Family and friends have helped meet our needs by providing food, cleaning the house, and running errands.


 

There is a related point to sharing these thoughts. When working with clients, kids and adults, it is vital to make sure basic needs are being met. If you are a parent, a teacher, a provider, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend, we can ask: are you hungry? thirsty? tired? not feeling well? need to use the bathroom? need shelter? need clean/warmer/cooler clothing? If I would like to read Baby a story, I need to first make sure he is full, clean, well-rested, and calm. If not, Baby won't benefit from the book. If your child/student/client/patient/spouse/co-worker/friend appears upset, check that basic needs are being met before delivering an intervention. This will help them get the most out of your help.


 

I hope you will join me on my motherhood journey back to basics.

 

 

 

How Well Do You Live Life's Ordinary Moments?

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 8:15 PM

How well do you live life's ordinary moments?



I started thinking about the answer to this question after hearing a message from Rob Morris, President and Co-Founder of Love146, an organization that works to end child trafficking and exploitation. Listening to this message grounded me personally and professionally as it reminded me about my own mission in my practice and life. Rob described the day-to-day tasks and events that serve as the motor of Love146. Paperwork, traveling, meetings, long days, and work. Meeting a goal, rescuing a child, helping a family, and opening a new shelter are the highlights. But life is not a highlights reel.


 

Society has normalized experiencing life as a series of ups and downs through our media. Would you be interested in watching a movie mainly about people going to work, sitting at their desk, sipping coffee, doing work all day, having a few conversations, driving home, saying hello to their families, eating dinner, and sitting and reading a book? Most likely not. We want to see an exciting commute to work with lots of dramatic or comedic conversation, an argument with a co-worker, a promotion or party at work, and coming home to a surprise birthday party. Which would you prefer? What picture does your life look like more?

 

 

It is very easy as a psychologist to get swept up in meeting goals and receiving achievements. Celebration is important. Enjoy the good highlights when they happen. A large part of our work however, is being with our clients as they experience the day-to-day activities of life. I was reminded of my passion and mission in my practice as I listened and reflected on Rob's message. I love helping people to accept our current experiences, make meaning out of the day-to-day and seemingly mundane tasks, and to be mindful every moment.

 


The highlights will come. In the meantime, let's celebrate the day-to-day together. Let's savor the piece of chicken you have for dinner, really listen to your children as they speak with you, pay attention to the color of the walls in your home, laugh when you make a mistake, apologize when you've hurt someone, enjoy your commute to work, and give your significant other a mindful hug.

 



So, I ask again-how well do you live life's ordinary moments?

How Do You Use Your Strengths?

Posted on June 4, 2014 at 9:20 PM


What can we learn from super hero, comic book, etc. movies? I never thought I would be asking this question. For those of you who have worked with me, you would probably guess that my movie interests are not action or superhero based. Rather, I have historically indulged in romantic comedies, laugh out loud comedies and serious films about the human condition or relationships. Since meeting my husband 6 years ago, I have been exposed to new genres and serious films that I had never experienced before. Challenging my hobbies, thinking, and interests has opened new doors and surprisingly expanded my knowledge base and strengths. So- go see something you never thought you would!


 

Back to my original thought-I learned that movies that on the surface appear to be purely entertainment may actually illustrate interesting psychological themes. For this piece, I am going to focus on strengths.


 

Do you know what strengths you have? Being able to identify your strengths is a good step to take in mental wellness. Spider Man can use webbing to climb, grab, swing, capture, and rescue. The X-Men are comprised of characters who can read minds, fly, manipulate metal, and exert amazing strength. Superman can fly, is incredibly strong, and has x-ray vision.


 

Now that I have listed a few strengths of characters in movies, it's time to ask the next question. How do you use your strengths? The characters mentioned above have used their strengths for good and bad, depending on the portrayal. Some have intended to use their talents and abilities for good, but it turned out to work against them. Some have thought it was appropriate to utilize a particular strength, but it was not the best time to display it. The Hulk, for example, has amazing muscular power, but he sometimes is not able to control its use and can thus hurt himself and those around him.


 

Next, how can you use your strengths differently? Some situations call for you to use a strength while others do not. We can use our strengths more, less, or differently.


 

We can and should focus and develop our strengths, not our weaknesses. Think about some famous characters and how they have grown. In the X-Men movies, Professor X puts together an academy to do just this. Characters are taught skills to effectively manage, develop, and utilize their strengths.


 

There are some great assessments available online if you are interested in learning more about your unique strengths and would like to open a discussion about how they are being used in your daily life.


 

Here are a few:

VIA Institute on Character

Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center

Gallup Strengths Center

Realise2


 

Let me know what you learn and contact me if you would like to chat more about developing your or your child's strengths.

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 9:25 PM


Spring is here! Finally! I love seeing flowers bloom, the sun shining, and daylight lasting longer. The air feels warmer, the grass will start to feel thicker, and outside activities are more popular. It's also when we clean our homes, schools, offices, parks, yards, and cars. Some of us will see beautiful weather and exciting opportunities for growth and renewal, while others may see bugs, weeds, and work to do.


 

 

What do you see? What do you want to see? While two people may physically experience the same spring event, they may emotionally experience it differently. You have the power to choose how you will view your spring cleaning.


 

 

Based on years of research in the field of cognition, we know that events (the physical experience) do not directly cause us to feel the emotion we experience. There is space and time during which we interpret the event (how we think) and it is that interpretation that is directly related to the feeling we experience. If we see that it is raining (the physical experience) and think "ugh, more rain. What a dreary day" then we will likely feel a negative emotion such as sad or angry. On the other hand, if we see that it is raining and think "more rain. At least I don't have to water the flowers today" we may feel more positive about the physical experience and feel relieved or even happy.


 

 

 

Our interpretations matter. If you are mindful about how you interpret events, you will be able to observe habits and patterns in your thinking. You will be able to practice changing or modifying your interpretations to be optimistic, realistic, and helpful.


 

When you are cleaning your office, room, home, or yard, remember to spend some time "spring cleaning" your thoughts.


 

 

Happy Spring!


 

The "Being" Experience During the Holidays

Posted on November 18, 2013 at 8:35 PM


 

“We are human beings, not human doings.” This phrase really resonates with me, especially around the holidays. A colleague introduced me to this concept a few months ago, and it popped up again in a book I was reading recently. I think I am being reminded of something. We human beings have many opportunities to choose how to spend our time every day. We can choose to use our time for people, technology, trips, exercise, sleep, TV, chores, work, errands, etc. As we all know very well, the list can go on and on. Thinking about this phrase reminds me that this is the point. The list does go on and on. There will always be another activity, chore, phone call to make, thing to buy, or meeting to attend. Our loved ones and friends, however, may not always be there waiting for us while we check things off of our to-do list. Knowing this is a gentle nudge to use our time wisely and make room for mindfully being with people in our community.


 

When I say community, I don’t just mean our neighborhood. I mean who is present in our personal community in our lives. This may include (not limited to) parents, children, siblings, grandparents, a spiritual being (e.g., God), friends, co-workers and neighbors.


 

As a psychologist working with children (and adults), I see families feeling so busy, stressed, and running from one activity to the next. Kids will tell me how they have such a busy week that they think about everything they need to do while they are in school- Soccer, gymnastics, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church, dance, HW, football, drama club, birthday parties, and, of course, their appointment with me. Parents will say they run from one appointment and activity to the next for themselves and for each of their kids.


 

For parents, it is so important to remember that you are a human being and not a human doing. Your children are yearning for your time. Some kids feels that their parents don’t spend enough time with them, and their parents don’t understand this because they are bringing them to all of these activities and are maybe coaching their team or leading their club. These are truly wonderful ways to spend time with your kids. But kids want more. They want special mommy or daddy time. They want special family time. This means choosing to spend time playing, reading, laughing, tickling, chasing, talking, listening, and relaxing rather than running, rushing, accomplishing, and achieving. This is the difference between being and doing.


 

I have seen many kids in my practice who are engaging in problem behaviors at home. These may include yelling, hitting, not following directions, and arguing. Mom and dad feel forced to attend to their kids when they are acting this way. But, it is important to remember that all behavior is communication. Some of these behaviors may be communicating that they want to spend more time with you and they don’t know how else to show it. When you attend to problem behaviors, you attend to the child as well.


 

I find it helpful to plan ahead and make a schedule for work and for family time. I also find that flexibility in your plan is just as important as having one. Part of cultivating community is being flexible, going with the flow, and accepting what comes up in your day. Sometimes you feel you have to be in three places at once, and sometimes you need to be with your kids if they are sick, sad, or need to talk. As this holiday season approaches, let us remember to take time to choose being and not doing all the time. If we are being, we may be able to actually accomplish more than if we are focused on doing. We will likely have more fun through the season as well.


 

How will you be a human being and not a human doing this holiday season?